Osteoporosis took me totally by surprise. Since my arrival in this country as a young person, I have suffered hardly any serious ailment; well over forty decades I rarely visited doctors. I maintain a conscientiously balanced diet, and I thought I was exercising enough, going up and down the stairs, digging in the garden, getting on my knees to clean the kitchen floor, and walking, if not programmatically on regular basis, certainly without disdaining to do so on every opportunity presented.
I went to London early in January 1999. One evening in the hotel room I took a fall. It was1: 00 a.m. I was careless, and the responsibility was entirely my own. I was taking off my pantyhose in the small bathroom, standing up, and went hop, hop, and crash, and hit the lower spine against the threshold of the shower stall. It was, to be sure, unbecoming and very foolish. I crawled out of the bathroom and lay on the floor for over an hour before I was able to clamber up onto the bed. Fortunately, a friend visiting from Paris, with whom we were to spend the weekend, helped me the next day, and a physician was called. She examined me and assured me that I had no fracture. I was in considerable pain, but I could walk. A wheelchair was arranged at Heathrow and at Philadelphia, and I came home a few days later.
My physician examined me, and she agreed that there was no fracture. It was only when an X-ray was taken that a compression fracture was detected in the lumbar area and the diagnosis was osteoporosis. I was told that my bones were light and fragile; and the bone density test confirmed it. This was no surprise to me. I starved during the war just when I was growing up and needed nourishment. A few years ago, in the fall of 1996, I hit my ankle accidentally on the rim of the bathtub as I was getting out of it; I felt a sharp pain and apparently had a light fracture. I let the ankle to heal by itself. Now, I've learned that osteoporosis cannot be detected until a fracture occurs -- in the wrist, leg, back, or hip, as the case may be. A hip fracture can be critical, requiring immediate replacement. So, I was fortunate, I must say, to have had a relatively minor fracture to bring my osteoporosis to light before it advanced farther. I lost, nevertheless, 2-1/2 inches off my height, and now I am on fosamax and calcium regimen.
For three weeks, walking was a torture; then I started to drive. Early in March, I was fitted with a corset-brace to straighten the back; I wore it until mid-April. I was also advised to try to pull back my shoulders and straighten the back. Walk with your head up, a friend keeps telling me; the tendency is to stoop forward. Six months after the fall, my back still ached though there was no question, objectively, that the pain was progressively diminishing. I could by then put shoes on without moaning, and making the bed stopped being a major undertaking. I stopped taking Darvocet and started on two tablets of Extra Strength Tylenol PM at bedtime. After a year pain still lingered; then, it came off and on until the end of March this year, fifteen months after the fall. Physical work in the garden, like weeding, digging, shoveling, and mowing, is evidently beneficial, more so than walking, an article said recently. It's now almost a year and a half since the fall. I can again run up a flight of stairs in one breath, two or three steps at a time, and I can almost touch the toes without bending the knees. But the limit of the load I can lift has diminished noticeably. Sitting at the computer more than a couple of hours, on the other hand, invariably brings back the lumbar pain. In February I thought I was better and stopped taking fosamax; but the pain changed from mild to excruciating that I had to start it again after three weeks.
Pain takes so much energy from the body. It dampens the spirit. In the course of these months, the pain diminished in intensity but also changed in character. It is hard to explain exactly how. But, all the same, pain, especially sustained pain, is felt intensely regardless of the degree of its intensity. Diminished, it still feels just as bad. This is probably because pain is uppermost in our sentient life and draws our concentration when it is present. When a tooth aches, it is well nigh impossible to take our attention away from it.
Of late, bursitis in the left shoulder has taken over my life of pain, and the lumbar pain has virtually been forgotten.
The diagnosis of osteoporosis suddenly aged my self-image, nevertheless. Until then I associated the condition only with old age. Suddenly I felt much older than I used to feel; or, rather, I was reminded that I am, indeed, old, certainly old enough for osteoporosis, much older than I like to think I am. Having enjoyed good health for decades, this is not easy to take.
But, on the other hand, my ailment is still a negligible inconvenience. I should learn by now to accept that my body is aging much quicker than my thinking about it. Learning that is a part of maturing, too, I am sure.
T. Kaori Kitao, 06.15.00